UNION Home Minister Amit Shah Wednesday called the Delhi riots a conspiracy that had been hatched well in advance and assured Parliament that the rioters, irrespective of which side they belong to, will not be spared.
“How these riots spread so fast is a good question… we have registered a case of conspiracy in the matter. I am of the firm belief that it can spread so fast only after advance planning,” Shah said during his reply to a debate on the Delhi riots in the Lok Sabha.
Beginning his speech with expressing grief over the deaths in the riots, he reiterated multiple times that strict action would be taken against anyone behind the violence. “The Narendra Modi government will not spare anyone from any side… A scientific investigation is being conducted. No innocent will face any trouble. They may be called for questioning, but no one will be arrested without evidence,” Shah said.
He also defended the Delhi Police which has faced severe criticism for alleged dereliction of duty. “People asked what the Delhi Police was doing. Police should be praised, in fact. About 1.7 crore people live in Delhi. Where the riots happened, 20 lakh people live. It is the most densely populated part of the country, with a mixed population. To not let these riots spread across Delhi was a big responsibility. Police not only managed to limit the riots to 12 police stations with 4% area of Delhi and 13% of its population, but also controlled the riots within 36 hours,” Shah said.
Elaborating on the “conspiracy” behind the riots, Shah said 300 people had entered from Uttar Pradesh, and referred to speeches made by the AIMIM’s Waris Pathan and former JNU student Umar Khalid. He also obliquely accused the Congress, in particular Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, of inciting violence. He said police were using face recognition software and had identified more than a thousand people through it.
Notably, on February 25, the Press Information Bureau in a release had quoted Shah as calling the Delhi riots “spontaneous”.
“On December 14, a political party held a rally at Ramlila Maidan. Its leader gave a speech where she made a call for ‘Aar paar ki ladai (fight to finish)’. On December 16, Shaheen Bagh started. Another senior leader of the party said if you don’t get out of your homes now you would be called a coward. Were these not hate speeches?” Shah said, adding that 76% of all riot deaths in the country since Independence had happened in Congress regimes.
He added that on February 17 Umar Khalid had called upon people to hit the streets during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, as well as referred to Pathan’s speech where he said 15 crore would prove stronger than 100 crore. “But these will not be called hate speeches because they address a particular vote bank,” Shah said, adding that because of these speeches, tension began building on February 23. (After an FIR was registered against him, Pathan had withdrawn his comments, seen as referring to 15 crore Muslims and 100 crore Hindus.)
Over the Opposition criticism’s of alleged hate speeches made by BJP leaders in the run-up to the Delhi polls and riots, Shah said speeches made by Kapil Mishra were being examined by police, but appeared to defend Union minister Anurag Thakur and others. “Now speeches made 30 days before the riots are being called hate speech but those made two-three days before the riots are not hate speeches,” Shah said.
More than 700 FIRs had been registered, with 2,647 arrests, CCTV footage was being analysed on 25 computers and videos being sought from public, Shah said. “Thousands of videos have come. (IB officer) Ankit Sharma’s murder will also be unravelled through this.”
He added that a face identification software, which had been fed with data of voter IDs and driving licences, was being used to identify rioters. He said 1,100 people had been identified thus and 40 Delhi Police teams were tracing them.
“Money has been pumped in. A financial probe is on. It is too premature to divulge the details… Those who received the money have been identified. Three people have been arrested. People belonging to the Islamic State have been arrested. Social media has been used to stoke hatred. As many as 60 social media accounts that started on February 22 and shut down on February 26 are under probe. As many as 25 cases have been registered under the Information Technology Act,” the Home Minister said.
Replying to AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s charge in his speech that Muslims were being targeted during the probe, Shah said, “Owaisi sahab, it’s a software. It does not see religion. It can’t identify people by their clothes. It only identifies faces.”
On the damage to property during the riots, Shah indicated recovery would be made from people identified via video evidence, saying the government had sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court to set up a Claims Commission.
Responding to Owaisi on the mosques that had been burnt, Shah said 52 “Bharatiya (Indians)” had died in the riots while 526 “Bharatiya” were injured and 371 shops and 142 houses damaged or burnt. “I don’t see Hindu and Muslim in this. I express regret for both the damaged mosque and temple. We will not spare the killers of Zubair. But sensitivity should also be expressed for Ankit Sharma whose body had 400 stab wounds.”
With the Opposition seeking his resignation over the violence, the Home Minister defended his role as controller and supervisor of the Delhi Police. During the debate, the Congress and Left compared his role to that of Nero “as Rome burnt”, while Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary said NSA Ajit Doval’s visit to the riot areas showed the PMO had lost confidence in the Home Ministry. The Congress later walked out in the middle of Shah’s reply.
Shah said it was he who had requested Doval to “go and boost the morale of the Delhi Police”. “Had I gone in his place, police would have got busy with me. I also appointed a Special CP (Law and Order).”
The minister said he was on top of the matter throughout. “At 2 pm on February 24, first information (about the riots) was received. At 11 pm on February 25 the last information was received. The riots happened for only 36 hours. I was in Gujarat for the Trump visit. I came back by 6 pm and held a series of meetings. I didn’t go to Taj Mahal. I didn’t even go for the Rashtrapati Bhawan lunch and dinner. All the time I was with the Delhi Police to see that the riots were brought under control.”
In his speech, Owaisi said there was a “tsunami of Hindutva hate” and called the Delhi riots a pogrom. He sought an impartial probe to find the perpetrators of the violence.
The CPI’s K Subbarayan blamed hate speeches for the violence and called the Central government complicit. CPIM member A M Ariff alleged that the government was “killing the country’s secular nature”.
On the Opposition criticism that the government had deliberately delayed a discussion on the Delhi riots in Parliament, Shah said this was done due to the festival of Holi and to give time to the Delhi Police to conduct investigations. “During Holi, sentiments are often high. In the past communal clashes have happened… We just wanted a peaceful Holi.”
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